While national Republicans are quickly falling in line behind former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, several local party activists said they are still unsure what kind of candidate she will be in the Granite States 2010 Senate race.
Although most Republicans only had kind words to say about the telegenic Ayotte, even her supporters had a hard time describing her political leanings. Meanwhile, several other Republicans are considering running for the Senate and could force a divisive primary that wouldnt be decided until just a few months before the winner will face the likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Paul Hodes.
Ayotte supporter and former state Sen. Bob Clegg (R) worked regularly with her when they were in office, but he was at a loss when asked to pinpoint where he thought she would fall on the political spectrum.
Would I call her a Republican or Democrat? I wouldnt call her either, Clegg said. I think shes one of the most thoughtful people on the political spectrum.
But, Clegg added, people will find out quickly how she feels because of her straightforward personality and tendency to answer questions in a direct manner.
Ayotte was appointed attorney general by former Gov. Craig Benson (R) and was re-appointed to her nonpartisan office by Gov. John Lynch (D). But because she has never run for political office before, her natural campaign skills are an unknown commodity even within Republican circles.
One GOP operative familiar with Ayotte recently saw her speak at a Republican womens luncheon and commented that she did all right.
She certainly didnt turn people off and make them run away, said the operative. I think a lot of people looked at it and said, OK, its a good starting point. Lets see what comes next.
The operative pointed out that Ayotte has a personable style that will likely be an asset in retail politicking a requisite campaign activity for candidates in New Hampshire.
I think that would be the best venue for her at this point, said the operative.
Another neutral Republican operative in New Hampshire who also declined to speak on the record said that many people think Ayotte is not a good public speaker, plus her fundraising prowess is uncertain.
Her fundraising capacity is a complete unknown because she hasnt been working for any charities, said the operative. I dont know if shes ever gotten on the phone and asked for money from anyone before.
Ayottes fundraising will no doubt be aided by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has already planned a September fundraiser for her headlined by Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). Ayotte also appears to have the backing of retiring Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and his organization.
Above all, most New Hampshire activists know Ayotte as a friend of the states law enforcement community. During her tenure as attorney general, Ayotte oversaw the successful prosecution of a capital murder case that included the death of a Manchester police officer.
But several interviews with local law enforcement officials who know Ayotte delivered little insight into her political positions, although the officials only had positive things to say about her.